Inside the Actors Studio: Icons
December 11, 2006
Since 1994, Bravo has aired Inside the Actors Studio, a program that explores, in depth, the art of acting and directing. The Actors Studio was created in 1947 based on the acting principles of Constantin Stanislavski and guided by its leader Lee Strasberg who helped support and teach an impressive student body that included alumni like James Dean and Marlon Brando. The Studio, for years, maintained a closed door policy in order to create a safe haven for students to nurture their talents. When it first began, the show’s host, James Lipton (Dean Emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School), interviewed an impressive roster of legends: Paul Newman, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel and so on. In recent years, the selection process has become rather dubious and pandering with guests who don’t really have much of a body or work or are, quite frankly not worthy of the honour or are even actors. Fortunately, this set presents several living legends of cinema – Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Clint Eastwood – and kicks things off rather fittingly with their very first guest: Paul Newman.
The best episodes over the years are the ones that get past Lipton’s often pretentious questions and get down to the fundamentals of acting. Paul Newman is one of the best examples as he speaks honestly and openly about his approach to acting. He is self-deprecating and humble, not afraid to be self-critical of his own work which is quite refreshing for an actor of his stature. Newman also tells fascinating stories of the old Hollywood system and how actors were under contract by a studio.
Lipton spent years pursuing the notoriously private Robert Redford but he finally agreed. The host thinks that it was because the show allowed the actor the opportunity to talk about the art of acting. Redford also speaks candidly about his past – his disinterest in school and an overnight jail stint for trashing an office at Universal Studios. He talks about the death of his mother early on in his life and how it hardened him emotionally. He led a fascinating life in the years leading up to becoming an actor. He traveled and studied in Europe, mainly France and Italy with a brief stay in Spain before moving back to the United States in New York City. As one would expect, he tells anecdotes about the origins of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Sting (1973) and a particularly hair-raising story about a very dangerous stunt he did on The Great Waldo Pepper (1975).
For all of the stoic, imposing characters Clint Eastwood has played over the years, he comes across on the show as a very charming man full of self-deprecating humour. He talks about how he hooked up with Sergio Leone and made a Fistful of Dollars (1964). Because Leone didn’t speak any English and Eastwood didn’t speak any Italian, the actor was left alone to design his own, now iconic costume. Eastwood found that the less dialogue he said, the strong his character became. He talks about his frequent collaborations with director Don Siegel, including The Beguiled (1971) and Dirty Harry (1971), a film that he says Paul Newman turned down because of its political overtones. Eastwood simply saw Harry as an interesting character to play. He talks about several of his directorial efforts including his approach to actors and what drew him to certain projects. For example, his life-long love of jazz led him to Bird (1988), a biopic of Charlie Parker. Eastwood also talks about the genesis of Unforgiven (1992) and how he identified with his character.
These are all excellent interviews that provide fascinating insight into not just the art of acting and directing but also these cinematic icons. While Lipton tends to fawn over his guests, they all come across as quite humble appreciative of the praise that their host and the audience gives them. Let’s hope this set is successful enough to spawn others, especially older episodes that aren’t aired on Bravo anymore.
In addition to including an introduction to each episode by Lipton, there are “Great Moments That Didn’t Make the Cut,” a collection of deleted scenes with even more anecdotes by the subjects with some real gems, like Redford talking about how he cobbled together some gear on the cheap to shoot a scene for the Downhill Racer (1969) when money ran out. Eastwood, on the other hand, talks about how he first discovered Siegel’s films.